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Thirty-third awoke in the morning, to find everything afloat. There was water enough within the encampment to have easily floated a canoe, which of course occasioned a general clearing out on the part of the regiment. :
Several severe cases of sickness arose from this heavy freshet, and a Division Hospital was established at Newport News, under charge of the Thirty-third • surgeon. A new and more elevated site, and nearer the James, was immediately occupied.
The men were allowed to bathe daily in the river. One afternoon, while so employed, the small rebel Gunboat Teaser, afterwards captured and found to
commenced throwing shells at the bathers. The sudden appearance of these unwelcome visitors in their midst produced a general “skedaddle," and the men came running into camp as fast as their legs would carry them. Some made their appearance in a perfectly denuded state; others more fortunate had managed to secure a shirt, while two or three came in with simply cap and stockings on. This affair created great merriment, and furnished a fruitful theme of conversation for weeks afterwards. The firing of the Teaser produced no effect beyond the severe scare administered to the men.
Soon after the return of the regiment from Watt's Creek, two Companies proceeded again in that direction to ascertain where the enemy's picket lines extended. They saw a few of the confederates, who fled on their approach. The Thirty-third assisted in building a log redoubt near the encampment, which was named Fort Wright, in honor of Joseph Wright, Esq., of Waterloo, N. Y. Scattered up and down the James River for miles, were to be seen the remains of elegant country seats and farm houses, destroyed by the rebel General Magruder at the time Hampton was burned. The country on every side presented a scene of ruin and desolation, conveying to the mind à vivid impression of the wanton devastation of war.
After the lapse of a few days the Thirty-third was sent, with the other regiments of Gen. Davidson's brigade, for the third time, to Watt's Creek, and after dispersing the rebel pickets, returned without loss.
Continued Arrival of Troops.--Advance of the Army of the Penin
sula.- Arrival of the Regiment at Young's Mills.-An Aged Contraband.-Lee's Mills.—The Various Companies of the Thirtythird ordered to the Front.- Caisson struck by a rebel Ball.Continued Firing of the Enemy.-Falling back of the National Forces.--Heavy Rain Storm.- The Beef Brigade. — Enemy's Fortifications.- Troublesome Insects.-Night Skirmishing.Celerity of the Paymaster's Movements.— Evacuation of Yorktown.-- Early information of the fact brought to Col. Corning by Contrabands.- The Rebel Works taken possession of.
TROOPS continued to arrive in large numbers from Washington, and on the 4th of April, the entire army commenced moving in the direction of Yorktown, appearing the next day in front of the enemy's lines. During the afternoon of the 4th the Thirtythird reached Young's Mills, which the enemy had left in the morning.
Their position here had been a very strong one; in addition to the natural defences of the place, they had thrown up heavy earth-works, constructed seven rifle pits, and placed four batteries in position. Their quarters, which were taken possession of by our men, consisted of wooden huts, snugly and compactly built. An aged contraband was found run
ning the grist-mill, from which the place took its name. The next day the march was resumed through a heavily timbered region, and over roads very much impaired by recent rains; the division arriving in front of Lee's Mills at noon.
Skirmishing and artillery firing immediatedly commenced, and was kept up with but little intermission for several days. In accordance with in. structions from Gen. Davidson, Col. Taylor sent, on Saturday, Co. B., to do picket duty on the left. The men advanced to within 150 yards of the enemy, who were found to have three large forts in addition to other fortifications. They remained out all night, keeping up a running fire most of the time, and having three of their number wounded. Co. A relieved them on the following morning. Cos. D, E, F, G, H, I, and K, were likewise posted as pickets, and to C was assigned the duty of supporting sections of Wheeler's and Cowan's batteries.
While so employed, one of the enemy's cannon balls, which were falling in every direction, struck a caisson and exploded several of the shells in rapid succession. At this juncture, an artilleryman, running up, dashed a bucket of water over the remainder, thereby preventing their explosion, to the great relief of the cannoniers, as well as of the supporting party. The artillery firing of the rebels, which was kept up at intervals along the whole line, killed but few of our men, though occasioning some uneasiness by its terrible execution among the forest rees. Saplings were snapped asunder like pipe
78 THE 33RD THE LAST TO LEAVE THE FRONT.
stems, while huge limbs severed from the tall oaks were falling in every direction. Many trees of large growth were completely perforated with solid shot, or shattered by shell.
During this time Capts. Cole and Guion, with a Volunteer force, made an important reconnoissance beyond our picket lines, advancing very near to the rebel works, from which they were fired upon.
In order to avoid the artillery and picket firing, it was decided to have the forces of Gen. Smith fall back for a short distance, where they would threaten the enemy full as much, and at the same time be less exposed. After the removal of the batteries the various Companies of the Thirty-third withdrew to the distance of a mile, being the last to leave the front, where they had retained their respective positions under the hottest of the enemy's fire, for a period of fifty-four hours, and lost in wounded Lieut. Gale, Co. G, and several privates.
Exhausted from the want of sleep and sufficient rations, the men sank down on the moist ground that night, with no protection from the falling rain, save that afforded by a few boughs and leaves. Officers and privates were alike drenched through to the skin, long before the dawn of day. They remained here some three or four days..
Owing to the condition of the roads, it was found impossible to bring up the supply trains. Two hundred and fifty men were accordingly detailed to proceed back and obtain rations. After several hours' absence they returned, each one bearing upon